Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Robert St. John: Big Apple Birthdays

BROOKLYN— Growing up I had relatives in New York. My maternal grandmother and grandfather lived here for 10 years or so. He worked on Madison Avenue for the entire decade of the sixties. My first visit here was as a three-year-old in 1964 during the World’s Fair. I don’t remember any of it other than a vague recollection of the song from Disney’s “It’s A Small World” which was introduced at the fair instantly becoming the king of ear-worm songs in the history of all ear-worm songs.

Subsequent visits to the city were uneventful in my memory, though I do remember being fascinated with automats. My New York memories mainly begin on July 20, 1969. I was sitting in Yankee Stadium with my brother and grandfather watching a game between the Yankees and the Washington Senators when legendary public address announcer, Bob Sheppard announced that America had just landed on the moon. The game stopped while the National Anthem was played. We watched Neil Armstrong walk on the moon later that night in my grandparent’s apartment somewhere on the Upper East Side.

My paternal grandfather, Thomas St. John, had six brothers. They were all from the tiny town of Brooksville, Mississippi. One of the brothers had a son, a lawyer, who lived in Manhattan all his adult life. He ended up battling drinking and gambling addictions and removed himself from much of his contact with the family except for funerals, and a few phone calls back home when he’d ask me who I liked in a particular SEC football game.

Another of my grandfather’s brothers, Charles St. John, led a wild, alcohol-fueled youth in the 1920s, but was saved at a Billy Sunday crusade and went on to become the pastor at the famous Bowery Mission in New York. He wrote a book, “God on the Bowery,” starred in a MGM documentary, “This Is the Bowery,” and his sermons were carried by New York radio every Sunday.

There was a wealthy widow who lived in New Jersey named St. John (no relation) who listened to Charlie’s sermons every week and invited him to lunch every Sunday afternoon. When she died, she left all her estate to Uncle Charlie and it wasn’t too long before he started hitting the bottle again and ended up back in Brooksville, Mississippi. I remember him as a sweet old man but was never old enough to ask about his New York days.

My main history with New York deals with food. I have spent the past four decades mining the restaurants of this city for inspiration and doing research and development for my life’s work. This city is the widely recognized number one food city in the country. There are over 27,000 restaurants in the five boroughs. If one were to visit a different restaurant every day, it would take almost 74 years to visit all the dining establishments this city has to offer. That’s an embarrassment of riches for someone who eats, sleeps, and breathes the restaurant business.

I enjoy museums and live theatre, as well. But any trip I’ve made to this city over the past 35 years has revolved around restaurants and restaurant reservations. The schedule always starts with restaurants on the to-do list. Once those are secure the rest of the trip can be planned.

This trip is a birthday celebration of sorts. My son and daughter were born four years apart. However, their birth dates are only four days apart. In their childhood years each had a party and everything that goes with that. In adulthood we have decided to take a family vacation every year during the week that covers both of their birthdays. This year we chose New York since my son is in culinary school upstate.

He and his girlfriend took the train down and met our daughter, mother, and me at the Hoxton Hotel in Brooklyn. I am a huge fan of the Hoxton Hotel group as I have been staying at their property in Chicago for the past several years. The food and beverage in the Chicago hotel is operated by the Boka Restaurant Group in Chicago which is owned by a couple of my friends and was most recently voted one of the nation’s to 10 restaurant groups, and deservedly so.

Boka handles all the food and beverage duties at the Hoxton Hotel in Brooklyn as well. On the first night the Boka boys arranged a progressive dinner at the three concepts in the hotel Jaffa, K’Far, and the uber-popular Laser Wolf. We started with drinks and appetizers on the outdoor mezzanine at Jaffa where I ate the best hummus of my 62 years. For the second dinner we moved to Laser Wolf on the roof, with an amazing view of the Manhattan skyline and East River. There we ate all manner of excellent Israeli cuisine— kebabs and shishliks— cooked over coals, and the absolute best French fries I have eaten in my 62-year dining career.

The fries were just one of many side items served, but any side item— even one as basic as a French fry, maybe especially one as basic as a French fry, that undergoes a three day prep process of brining, steaming, par-cooking, freezing, and whatever else they can do in a 72-hour period to create French fry perfection— that goes through all of that deserves recognition. From this day forward I will know where I was when I ate the best French fry— and best hummus— of my life.

After two nights in Brooklyn, we moved into Manhattan for the final dinner of the birthday excursion at Le Bernardin. My son and I are on a mission to dine in all the Michelin three-star restaurants in Manhattan before he graduates culinary school. Le Bernardin was to be our third and final restaurant (Per Se and Eleven Madison Park were previous) allowing us to complete the trifecta of New York exceptionalism, until we learned Michelin has recently added another three-star restaurant— Masa— to that vaunted list.

Le Bernardin was exquisite and a perfect final dinner to an outstanding trip. Eric Ripert is the undisputed master of seafood. The eight-course tasting menu was filled with the most perfect and expertly prepared langoustines, sea urchin, and fish. I was raised an hour north of the Gulf of Mexico. I spent my summer fishing and swimming in those waters. I own a restaurant that serves over eight tons of filet’d finfish and over 20 tons of shrimp every year. I feel like I know seafood, and how to cook and prepare seafood. Dining in Le Bernardin and enjoying the most expertly prepared seafood I have ever tasted was a humbling, yet exceptional, experience.

As I write I am sitting in the hotel dining room waiting to have breakfast with the birthday boy. It’s one of thousands we have enjoyed together all over the world. I love this phase of our father-son-relationship. In the early years I enjoyed talking about our favorite superheroes, which magical power you could choose if you had your wish, or what the local football team looked like. But these days are extraordinary, as we talk restaurants, chefs, future concepts, and business.

It's the same with my daughter, whose birthday we celebrated four days ago. She is an adult, a sweet and beautiful— inside and out— young woman. I loved all the early years with her— dolls and Disney. But these days there is more depth to the father-daughter relationship, today. The future looks so bright.

I am truly a blessed man. But the fruits of my blessing aren’t material things and monetary things, but spiritual and relational things. The things in life that truly matter— faith, family, friends, food, and fun. I look forward to celebrating both of my children’s birthdays in grand fashion, or as casual as we can— wherever we may be— for many years to come.


Cilantro Spiked Corn, Crab, and Avocado Dip

Corn, crab, and avocado work well when paired together in a cold offering. The cilantro adds an additional coolness which makes this the perfect summer dip.

3 Tbl lime juice, freshly squeezed

2 Tbl Tequila

1 /4 cup olive oil

1 tsp salt

3 avocados

1 1 /2 cup fresh cooked corn, cut from the cob (use frozen kernels if fresh is not available)

2 Tbl red bell pepper, finely diced

1 tsp garlic, minced

1 /4 cup onion, finely chopped

1 cup fresh lump crab meat, picked of all shell

1 /8 tsp cayenne pepper

1 Tbl hot sauce

1 Tbl fresh chopped cilantro

Combine tequila, lime juice, olive oil, salt, hot sauce and cayenne pepper in a mixing bowl.

Peel and small dice the avocado, quickly placing the avocado in the lime juice mixture and tossing well so avocado is well coated.

Fold in remaining ingredients.

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Trollfest '09

Trollfest '07 was such a success that Jackson Jambalaya will once again host Trollfest '09. Catch this great event which will leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Othor Cain and his band, The Black Power Structure headline the night while Sonjay Poontang returns for an encore performance. Former Frank Melton bodyguard Marcus Wright makes his premier appearance at Trollfest singing "I'm a Sweet Transvestite" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Kamikaze will sing his new hit, “How I sold out to da Man.” Robbie Bell again performs: “Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Bells” and “Any friend of Ed Peters is a friend of mine”. After the show, Ms. Bell will autograph copies of her mug shot photos. In a salute to “Dancing with the Stars”, Ms. Bell and Hinds County District Attorney Robert Smith will dance the Wango Tango.

Wrestling returns, except this time it will be a Battle Royal with Othor Cain, Ben Allen, Kim Wade, Haley Fisackerly, Alan Lange, and “Big Cat” Donna Ladd all in the ring at the same time. The Battle Royal will be in a steel cage, no time limit, no referee, and the losers must leave town. Marshand Crisler will be the honorary referee (as it gives him a title without actually having to do anything).

Meet KIM Waaaaaade at the Entergy Tent. For five pesos, Kim will sell you a chance to win a deed to a crack house on Ridgeway Street stuffed in the Howard Industries pinata. Don't worry if the pinata is beaten to shreds, as Mr. Wade has Jose, Emmanuel, and Carlos, all illegal immigrants, available as replacements for the it. Upon leaving the Entergy tent, fig leaves will be available in case Entergy literally takes everything you have as part of its Trollfest ticket price adjustment charge.

Donna Ladd of The Jackson Free Press will give several classes on learning how to write. Smearing, writing without factchecking, and reporting only one side of a story will be covered. A donation to pay their taxes will be accepted and she will be signing copies of their former federal tax liens. Ms. Ladd will give a dramatic reading of her two award-winning essays (They received The Jackson Free Press "Best Of" awards.) "Why everything is always about me" and "Why I cover murders better than anyone else in Jackson".

In the spirit of helping those who are less fortunate, Trollfest '09 adopts a cause for which a portion of the proceeds and donations will be donated: Keeping Frank Melton in his home. The “Keep Frank Melton From Being Homeless” booth will sell chances for five dollars to pin the tail on the jackass. John Reeves has graciously volunteered to be the jackass for this honorable excursion into saving Frank's ass. What's an ass between two friends after all? If Mr. Reeves is unable to um, perform, Speaker Billy McCoy has also volunteered as when the word “jackass” was mentioned he immediately ran as fast as he could to sign up.

In order to help clean up the legal profession, Adam Kilgore of the Mississippi Bar will be giving away free, round-trip plane tickets to the North Pole where they keep their bar complaint forms (which are NOT available online). If you don't want to go to the North Pole, you can enjoy Brant Brantley's (of the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance) free guided tours of the quicksand field over by High Street where all complaints against judges disappear. If for some reason you are unable to control yourself, never fear; Judge Houston Patton will operate his jail where no lawyers are needed or allowed as you just sit there for minutes... hours.... months...years until he decides he is tired of you sitting in his jail. Do not think Judge Patton is a bad judge however as he plans to serve free Mad Dog 20/20 to all inmates.

Trollfest '09 is a pet-friendly event as well. Feel free to bring your dog with you and do not worry if your pet gets hungry, as employees of the Jackson Zoo will be on hand to provide some of their animals as food when it gets to be feeding time for your little loved one.

Relax at the Fox News Tent. Since there are only three blonde reporters in Jackson (being blonde is a requirement for working at Fox News), Megan and Kathryn from WAPT and Wendy from WLBT will be on loan to Fox. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both and a torn-up Obama yard sign will entitle you to free drinks served by Megan, Wendy, and Kathryn. Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required. Just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '09 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

Note: Security provided by INS.

Trollfest '07

Jackson Jambalaya is the home of Trollfest '07. Catch this great event which promises to leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Sonjay Poontang and his band headline the night with a special steel cage, no time limit "loser must leave town" bout between Alan Lange and "Big Cat"Donna Ladd following afterwards. Kamikaze will perform his new song F*** Bush, he's still a _____. Did I mention there was no referee? Dr. Heddy Matthias and Lori Gregory will face off in the undercard dueling with dangling participles and other um, devices. Robbie Bell will perform Her two latest songs: My Best Friends are in the Media and Mama's, Don't Let Your Babies Grow up to be George Bell. Sid Salter of The Clarion-Ledger will host "Pin the Tail on the Trial Lawyer", sponsored by State Farm.

There will be a hugging booth where in exchange for your young son, Frank Melton will give you a loooong hug. Trollfest will have a dunking booth where Muhammed the terrorist will curse you to Allah as you try to hit a target that will drop him into a vat of pig grease. However, in the true spirit of Separate But Equal, Don Imus and someone from NE Jackson will also sit in the dunking booth for an equal amount of time. Tom Head will give a reading for two hours on why he can't figure out who the hell he is. Cliff Cargill will give lessons with his .80 caliber desert eagle, using Frank Melton photos as targets. Tackleberry will be on hand for an autograph session. KIM Waaaaaade will be passing out free titles and deeds to crackhouses formerly owned by The Wood Street Players.

If you get tired come relax at the Fox News Tent. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both will entitle you to free drinks.Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required, just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '07 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

Note: Security provided by INS